My partner and I did the HAL E2S cruisetour from August 23 thru Sept. 4. This cruisetour allowed us to stay in Denali National Park at the end of the park road at the Denali Backcountry Lodge. I can't say how happy we were that we selected this option, as staying in the park was exceptional. The Denali Backcountry Lodge was clean and comfortable. The food was quite good and the staff was very accommodating and helpful. We saw lots of wildlife on the way in and on the way out; got to see the big 5 (yes even a wolf). The highlight of the land tour was being able to hike inside Denali. We did guided hikes each morning with staff from the Backcountry Lodge, and hikes on our own each afternoon. We had exceptional weather that allowed us to see Mt. McKinley out in full view on two separate days! To get to the Denali Backcountry Lodge, we took the train from Fairbanks and then a bus (just like the park buses) into the Lodge. The train was very comfortable and the food (which you buy) was very good. The bus ride was long, but because you're looking for wildlife, and because the scenery is breathtaking, the time passes quickly. The bus ride in is very similar to the Tundra Wilderness tour, except it goes further into the park (right to the end) and you don't pay extra for it. The driver stops for all wildlife sightings and makes extra stops for bathroom and snack breaks. Again, I would highly recommend doing the land portion of your cruisetour this way if you're booking through HAL.
Leaving the Backcountry Lodge, you take the bus out (which gives you another chance to view wildlife) and then we took the train to Anchorage. Again, train was comfortable and food was good. Stayed overnight at the Anchorage in Hilton which was fine. Next day took a bus to Seward and did the Kenai Fjord cruise as an excursion. This was a fun excursion. The weather was good and we saw whales, puffins, sea lions, porpoises and calving glaciers. The excursion ended and we were bussed less than a mile to the Zaandam.
Boarding the Zaandam was quick and easy. We were on board in less than ten minutes. Went to our room, a veranda room and our bags were waiting for us. Because it was after 6:00 pm, we went up to the Lido deck for dinner. We set sail at 8:00 pm.
Our cabin was quite clean and comfortable. The bathroom was a bit worn, but very clean and serviceable. The toilet and shower worked perfectly every day and really, what more do you need from your bathroom. The bed was very comfortable. As a matter of fact, the entire ship was clean and showed minimal signs of wear and tear. Imam, our cabin steward, was a sweetheart who took excellent care of our cabin and made it a point to try and meet our every need.
First day of the cruise was a sea day. My partner and I had a couples massage in the spa. I'm sorry to say I can't recommend getting a message. Both of us felt as though the massages we received were probably the worst we've ever had. That, combined with the constant hard sell of products and spa services combined to make this a less than ideal experience. No matter, it didn't bother us in the least. We had purchased the well-being package prior to embarking on the cruise. The massages were included in the package, as was the thermal suite. After our massages, we went into the thermal suite to lounge on the heated chaises and soak in the mineral hot tub. It was quite relaxing. Had dinner at the Pinnacle Grill that night, which was formal night. The food and service in the Pinnacle Grill were both outstanding. Attended the singer/dancer show after dinner which was delightfully cruise shippy. It was a lot of fun!
Day 2, Glacier Bay. We spent most of the day out on the deck or on our veranda, watching the scenery and glaciers. Got to see Margery (sp?) Glacier calve. It was a peaceful, relaxing day. Dinner in the MDR food and service both very good. The show was a magician who was quite good.
Day 3, Haines. Disembarked after breakfast and walked around Haines for a couple of hours and did a little shopping. Haines is a quaint little town that seems more authentic (less touristy) than the bigger ports. Back onto the ship for lunch and then did the Wilderness Safari tour in the afternoon. This consisted of a boat ride to a small island or peninsula, a short hike to canoes and then a canoe trip to a glacier. It was amazing to see a glacier so close. The guides for this trip were top notch and it was a fun excursion.
Day 4, Juneau. Breakfast than off for our Photo Safari by Land and Sea excursion. This was a great excursion. First we hiked (really more like a walk)to the visitor center at the Mendenhall Glacier. The view of the glacier was spectacular. The hike was pretty and the guide gave lots of photo tips and lots of info about the area. Then we went on a whale watch. Saw some whales and again, the scenery was spectacular. More photo tips from the guide and more info about the whales and their habits. I would highly recommend this excursion. After the excursion we had lunch at a local restaurant - halibut and chips - excellent! Did some shopping and back on the ship. Dinner in MDR - formal night.
Day 5, Ketchikan. Breakfast and then off ship to do a little shopping in Ketchikan. Back to ship for lunch and then off on Snorkeling excursion. This was also a great excursion! You are outfitted with wetsuit, hood, booties and gloves and snorkeling gear. Yes, the water is cold, but the wetsuit keeps you pretty warm. I was fine and my partner, who is always cold, was one of the last ones out of the water. We saw brilliantly colored starfish and sea urchins and sea cucumbers and some fish - it was great. Back to the dock, a little more shopping and then back to the ship. Dinner at the Pinnacle Grill, excellent again, show was comedian who is a ventriloquist -- very funny!
Day 6, Sea Day.
Day 7, Disembark in Vancouver.
All in all, this was a great ship and a great cruise.